REACH reaches 25 years

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2004

Thanks to REACH, Lee Sandor and her husband John leave for a vacation today.

Though a five-day getaway to British Columbia would be pretty routine for most Juneau families, the Sandors, who have a daughter with a developmental disability, require the help of REACH service providers.

"You don't realize how much you need it until you're going to go and get away for a while, and then you realize this is going to be nice," said Lee Sandor, mother to 47-year-old Mary.

Mary Sandor has a developmental disability and a mental illness. Though she works at REACH and has a care provider assist her in the mornings and afternoons, Mary requires 24-hour a day support.

In the last 25 years, REACH has dramatically improved Mary's life, said Lee Sandor, who served on the board of directors of REACH for the first 10 years of the organization's existence.

"When she became mentally ill, that presented great difficulties," said Lee Sandor. "But someone on the staff of REACH said, 'Oh let her come and be a part of our day program.' Because of the wonderful staff they put up with her and were just very loving and concerned and caring about her."

REACH, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, began as an effort by five sets of parents of children with developmental disabilities to give their children a chance at living independently.

The nonprofit organization has expanded its services to include working with infants who show a delay in development, providing and finding employment for clients and providing respite care to families.

As the number of services grew, so did the number of clients and employees. The organization moved from office building to office building around Juneau until last April, when it moved into the Behrends building on Third street.

REACH serves 400 clients in Southeast Alaska annually, said Richard Fagundes, the organization's executive director. It employs 243 people in the region, about 200 of whom are directly involved in providing care to clients.

The organization employs full-time physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, a registered nurse and employment and mental health specialists.

It operates on a $7 million annual budget, the majority of which comes from federal health care waivers. The state provides $700,000 in grants to the organization.

REACH also has a custodial employment program for its clients that provides $1.2 million for the agency's budget.

"We clean 1 million square feet of offices a night in this state," said Fagundes. The custodial program is another way for REACH to help its clients live independently.

Before REACH was founded, Butch Laughlin, father of Reggi, 32, struggled as a single parent of a developmentally disabled daughter, he said.

"Not only did it help me in my life, but it's helped Reggi enormously," he said. Reggi Laughlin now lives in an assisted living home, is employed and is a recognizable member of the community.

"We go around town and she knows more people in the community than I do," said Laughlin.

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